Q. Our best friends own a house in Morocco which sleeps about ten. They rent it out but go two or three times a year themselves and always invite as many people as they can cram in. They have much more social stamina than we have, so whenever they invite us, we beg that it can be just the four of us. They agree but always renege at the last minute and invite others on the grounds that it will be ‘much jollier’. We just want time alone with them in their undiluted company and we find big house parties mentally exhausting. But it’s not our house so we can’t lay down the law. Next time, Mary, how can we ensure we are the only guests?
—S.R., Haddington, East Lothian
A. Enquire whether you can rent the house yourself for a special occasion. Then invite the owners to come as your guests.
Q. Is it rude to bring a book to a wedding? One wouldn’t read during the vows, but at country house weddings there are lulls and longueurs between church at 2 p.m. and shuttle bus at 3 a.m. My boyfriend forbade me to bring a novel to a wedding in Ireland. I flagged badly after 1.30 a.m. and think no one would have minded me reading in a corner of the marquee, but he says it’s bad manners. Who’s right?
— L.F., Bayswater, London
A. One has every sympathy but your boyfriend is definitely right. A wedding is a stage and all the men and women players. Your role is to enter into the spirit of the event and pretend to be fascinated and moved by it. To read a novel would suggest you have found another, imaginary, world more interesting than the real-life dramatic event you are at the centre of. This would be bad manners.
Q. May I offer this tip to readers afflicted by temporary amnesia in social situations? When faced with the prospect of having to introduce someone whose name I’ve forgotten, I simply gesture to the new arrival, and at the same time take a sip of wine. The new guest will immediately introduce him or herself, thus causing the other to fill in the gap.
— P.W., by email
A. Thank you for this useful tip. You could equally load a giant canapé into your mouth.
Q. We used to just nod or say hello to our neighbours, but since joining the Residents’ Association we have graduated to friendly terms. Now when one of us just wants to nip round to the corner shop we are often ambushed on the way back by a neighbour with time on their hands. Mary, neither of us has a spare ten minutes or more per day. Without being rude, what excuse can one give for not stopping?
— Name withheld, London W8
A. Always buy a choc ice at the corner shop. Then you can hover briefly with your neighbour but say truthfully, ‘I’d better dash. I’ve got to get some melting ice cream into my freezer.’
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